I Survived The Laos Slow Boat

There are few sounds more horrifying than the crunch of a wooden boat hull jarring and scraping against jagged rock. In twelve seconds our pleasant slow boat ride through Laos turned into a travel horror story that might appear on a parenting blog.
As our captain threw off his clean white uniform and dove into the murky river to check for leaks, the 120 or-so passengers onboard cracked beers, shot whiskey, shared witticisms, and gathered belongings to move ashore.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the boat failed to navigate between the rocky island and the shore. Although the three of us managed to get to the boat on time to snag seats, about forty people were not so lucky. Five young men sitting in the aisle beside us were in good spirits and pulled a couple beers and three bottles of whiskey from their packs while repeating their mantra: “You can either cry about it or you can laugh about it. I’m choosing to laugh and drink.”

Twenty minutes after we were grounded another boat came to our aid while our captain was still darting around in his brown briefs. Our bags were moved aboard the even smaller boat and we were on our way with more people standing in the aisles than before. I’ve seen some pretty remarkable displays of humanity: people giving up their seats, negotiating sharing of seats, people moving chairs and bags from one boat to another. (It’s worth pointing out that I have done none of these things.) All of this is creating a great sense of camaraderie between those onboard and I’m positive that if we crash again there will be a mutiny.

The sun has dropped behind the hill now and the chilly air combined with the spray hitting my lips and cheeks is making the hairs on my arms prickle. The river water is a brownish-green and there are plenty of gasoline containers and empty moonshine bottles floating around beside us. It makes me question the Mekong fish that comes out of here and is served proudly at restaurants in the surrounding towns. Still, though, between the herds of cows bravely grazing on steep hills, kayak-shaped fishing boats, passenger boats like this one, and nothing but green on the horizon, I think I’d take this kind of travel over a bus. I like the gentle rise and fall and fresh air that comes with it, and even the sense of impending doom that seems to be the cloud hanging over everyone on the boat.

As the sun finally set and the air cooled I moved out of my hermit hole at the window to find some warmth in the aisle. The funny thing was, at that far into the journey, no one even wanted to take my seat. All the people who were standing had just resigned themselves to the reality that they would be standing for the entire trip and I was robbed of the chance to be generous.
So far the whole experience in Laos has been excellent writing material. I don’t think I could have asked for more excitement in my life. I would never tell Colleen this (the stress has already made an indent between her eyes like a hatchet wound), but I kind of hope it continues. These are just the kinds of things I won’t tell my mother.